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Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Theatre Music - Volume 1
Amphytrion, or the Two Sosias, Z.572 (1690) [25:19]
Sir Barnaby Whigg, Z.589 (?1681) [3:49]
The Gordian Knot Unty’d, Z.597 (?1690) [17:00]
Circe, Z.575 (?1689) [13:25]
Nicola Bower; Andrea Jeffrey; Michelle Kettrick (sopranos); Rosalind McArthur (mezzo); Peter Mahon (countertenor); Brian Duyn (tenor); Neil Aronoff; Giles Tomkins (basses)
Aradia Ensemble/Kevin Mallon (violin)
rec. Grace Church on-the-Hill, Toronto, 25-29 April 2006. DDD
Sung texts available at Naxos website.
NAXOS 8.570149 [59:32]

Experience Classicsonline

‘Theatre Music – Volume 1’ would appear to signal the intention of Naxos to record the incidental music Purcell composed for 43 plays as detailed in Zimmerman’s analytical catalogue, the Z numbers in the heading. To give a different perspective from the review of this CD by Mark Sealey,  I’ll compare Mallon’s approach with that of The Academy of Ancient Music/Christopher Hogwood who between 1974 and 1983 recorded all the incidental music, currently only available complete on 6 CDs (Decca 475 529-2). Hogwood uses strings only, five first and five second violins in The Gordian Knot Unty’d, otherwise four first and second violins, always backed by three violas and three gambas. Mallon uses a smaller body of strings, three first and second violins, two violas and one gamba but varies the palette more by adding recorder, oboe, bassoon and percussion on occasion.
The Overture to the comedy Amphitryon (tr. 1) is given a sprightly, skipping, preening manner by Kevin Mallon, followed by a frisky central section before a more formal close. Hogwood’s Overture is more regal and also leisurely, taking 2:39 against Mallon’s equivalent timing of 1:54 before Mallon repeats the central and final sections whereas Hogwood only repeats the first. Hogwood’s central section is still active though not as merry as Mallon’s while his closing one is firmer and more majestic than Mallon’s. In the Saraband (tr. 2) Mallon is sheeny and confident, with cool doubling of the first violin line by recorder, more neatly pointed than Hogwood, faster at 0:55 against Hogwood’s 1:08, making Hogwood appear more staid. Then comes a first Hornpipe (tr. 3), a lively dance made more so by Mallon’s addition of tambourine which emphasises both the beat and scope for ornamentation in its trills. This is played twice, with repeats. This is Mallon’s usual generous practice, not Hogwood’s. It does give a feel of the potential extent of such dances in the context of the play’s performance. Hogwood’s first Hornpipe goes with a fair swing and has an inner resilience but Mallon is faster with one presentation taking 1:00 against Hogwood’s 1:08 and lighter with tambourine providing the impetus.
Both Mallon and Hogwood bring an element of the grotesque to the Scotch Tune (tr. 5). Hogwood gives just Purcell’s four part version swirling racily around in giddy fashion. Mallon’s opening spotlight on the tune plain and simple, played by solo violin over a drone has more dignity, character and humour but after this the four part version decked out further with lissom ornamentation, however delicious, seems over arty. The Air (tr. 7) is given a boisterous theatricality by Mallon by the addition of side drum, though Hogwood is still sheenily regal. To the Minuet (tr. 8) Mallon brings smoothness and style, especially in its intimate presentation second time around on solo instruments with recorder on the top line, though Hogwood gives more attention to the plaintive element underlying the gleaming façade. The second Hornpipe (tr. 10) finds Mallon light and deft, where Hogwood is rigorously efficient, Mallon’s second time around enlivened by recorder doubling the top line. It appears at the beginning in Mallon’s Bouree (tr. 11) making what with Hogwood is sprightly and confident more cheery still with an increase of ornamentation in repeats. You could say Hogwood is more exquisite, Mallon more entertaining in bringing the theatrical ambience to life.
Purcell also supplied three songs for Amphitryon. ‘Celia, that I once was blest’ (tr. 4) is first presented by Mallon in an instrumental version for violin solo, not proven authentic practice in this case as far as I know, but it gives you a sense of the character and artistry of the melodic line before you hear the words. But the second of its three verses is then omitted. Though published in the soprano clef it’s addressed to Celia and better sung by a man as it was in the theatre. So Martyn Hill’s performance for Hogwood is preferable to Andrea Jeffrey’s for Mallon. She articulates intently but without Hill’s throwaway jauntiness especially found in the airy freedom of the rise and fall of the close of its refrain. ‘For Iris I sigh’ (tr. 6) is a worldly wise song also intently articulated by Michelle Kettrick for Mallon with ornamentation stressing the artificiality of the relationship. But Judith Nelson’s faster tempo for Hogwood, the equivalent first verse taking 1:00 against Mallon’s 1:11, better suits the song’s wry, easy inconstancy. A Pastoral Dialogue between Thyrsis and Iris (tr. 9) features the man mapping out in music the hoped for length of a kiss and the woman equally indicating the amount of patience required before success, but soon she yields. Nicole Bower and Giles Tomkins for Mallon bring more droll dramatic relish to the situation and an affirmative closing duet in comparison with Judith Nelson and Christopher Keyte for Hogwood who are more punctilious in the courtship but lighter in the duet.
For Sir Barnaby Whigg Purcell provided ‘Blow, Boreas, blow’, a dramatic arioso of extreme vocal range to depict vividly the ascents and descents experienced in a storm. Bryan Duyn for Mallon (tr. 12) shows the heroic response under pressure with full adrenalin. For Hogwood, published 1985, Rogers Covey-Crump is clearer but calmer in expression. The closing section is a duet. Duyn is joined by Giles Tomkins and the mood, while still one of valiant defiance, lightens. Covey-Crump is joined by David Thomas and they get across better its drinking song nature, both jolly and reckless.
The Gordian Knot Unty’d is all instrumental music. Creating a contrast from what has gone before, Mallon begins this in more reserved fashion. The introduction of the Overture (tr. 13) has a regal severity before a deftly darting fast section and sombre slow coda. With his larger body of strings Hogwood, published 1976, is more majestic and formal with an even darker coda. Mallon’s Second Music Air (tr. 14) is a happier perspective with bounce and confident swing though Hogwood’s greater weight here makes it even more high spirited. Mallon’s Second Music Minuet (tr. 15), by contrast, is sunny but weightier than Hogwood’s greater delicacy and clarity of inner parts and so seems steadier. In the First Act Tune Air (tr. 16) Mallon vigorously emphasises the rhythmic contrasts with a tapered dancing manner to the ends of phrases, yet Hogwood’s pointing is lighter to neater effect. The Second Act Tune Rondeau Minuet (tr. 17) Mallon, using solo instruments makes smooth and stylish with something of sorrowful dignity about it. Hogwood also uses solo instruments but in a lighter, more wistful and intimate manner. In the Third Act Tune Air (tr. 18) Mallon reintroduces the recorder. It takes over the top line to effervescent effect, making Hogwood’s daintiness seem rather plain. The Fourth Act Tune Jig (tr. 19) has as its bass the tune ‘Lilliburlero’. Mallon makes this explicit by ushering it in with side drum and then bassoon just playing that tune before Purcell’s Jig is niftily sketched above it. Hogwood is more exuberant but the foundation tune is less apparent. The Chacone (tr. 20) is forthrightly presented by Mallon, the oboe doubling of the top line making it airier. Hogwood brings a steely projection and resolve to it, a more formal, less flowing manner than Mallon whose lighter approach brings a more satisfying feel of elements being integrated. 
Purcell’s music for Circe is a complete scene of vocal solos and choruses in which the appearance of the gods of the underworld is invoked. The opening bass solo and chorus, ‘We must assemble by a sacrifice’ (tr. 20), Mallon makes urgent, the recorder doubling the top line here adds to the eagerness which has a bloodthirsty quality. But Hogwood, taking 2:35 against Mallon’s 1:39, is more spacious and majestic yet still conveys with emphatic momentum through the roulades on ‘range’ the vast potential of demons that might be summoned. The countertenor solo ‘The air with music gently wound’ (tr. 22 0:37) is in strong contrast in Mallon’s recording hushed and reverent from Peter Mahon with the echoing chorus contemplative, though James Bowman’s solo for Hogwood is more memorably voluptuous. Brian Duyn’s tenor solo ‘Come every demon’ (tr. 23) for Mallon has a hearty, direct appeal but Martyn Hill for Hogwood is more subtle in his arch, sportive manner. ‘Lovers who to their first embraces go’ is a brightly articulated soprano solo by Nicole Bower for Mallon but the following solo by mezzo Rosalind McArthur is more tellingly delivered for Hogwood by countertenor James Bowman. The chorus ‘Great minister of Fate’ is from Mallon eager, pacy and pepped up by recorder doubling the violin top line but again lacks Hogwood’s stately majesty which makes more of its chromatic closing sting, ‘Famine and pestilence about you wait’. Mallon curiously places this pair of solos and chorus at the end (tr. 26), presumably to have a closing chorus, but in the original setting, as from Hogwood, ‘Pluto, arise!’ is the final invocation because only this succeeds. Mallon’s Magicians’ Dance (tr. 24) is light on its feet and stealthy; Hogwood’s is firmer and rather jocular. ‘Pluto, arise!’ (tr. 25) is given plenty of urgency and gusto by Neil Aronoff for Mallon but lacks the more colourful majestic ease of greater freedom of delivery found by Christopher Keyte for Hogwood, taking 1:39 against Mallon’s 1:17.
To sum up, Mallon offers lively performances of a good cross-section of Purcell’s theatre music. The instrumental performances are especially enjoyable and bring the theatrical environment to life more than Hogwood’s. But the vocal performances are generally less stylish than Hogwood’s, partly owing to their generally swift tempi, partly because the glowing acoustic of Toronto’s Grace Church is kinder to the close miked instruments.
Michael Greenhalgh

see also review by Mark Sealey


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